Little Bits of History

Dead Poet’s Society

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 21, 2014
Virgil

Virgil

September 21, 19 BC: Virgil dies. The poet’s official name was Publius Vergilius Maro. We know of his life via a lot biography by Varius which got incorporated into works written later by Suetonius, Servius, and Donatus. Because of the imprecise nature of the writings, Virgil’s true biographical information is somewhat problematic. According to tradition, he was born in the village of Andes, in Cisalpine Gaul on October 15, 70 BC. There is a suggestion of Etruscan, Umbrian, or possibly Celtic roots. It is said he was from humble beginnings, but modern scholars feel he was instead from an equestrian landowning family who could afford to educate their son. He attended several schools and briefly considered careers in rhetoric or the law before turning to poetry.

The poet is known for three major Latin works – the Eclogues or Bucolics, the Georgics, and his most famous work, the Aeneid. The first of these is a group of ten poems modeled on the Greek poet’s Theocritus’s method of hexameter poetry. Some believed it was autobiographical and written after the loss of his lands after the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC. Today, this seems to be unsupported inference. The Georgics was published later. The superficial meaning of the work is how to run a farm and each of the four books tackles one area of land management or animal husbandry. The entire book is influenced by the political times and the power struggles between Augustus and Antony.

The Aeneid is considered to be Virgil’s finest work and one of the most important poems in western literature. The epic poem, based on the Iliad and the Odyssey, has 12 books written in dactylic hexameter verse which is a rhyming scheme used by classic poets based on six feet with stress given to specific syllables. In the Aeneid, a warrior fled from the sacking of Troy and came to Italy. Eventually, after six books rather akin to the adventures in the Odyssey, we come to the founding of Rome. The final six books are more connected to the Iliad. Virgil worked on the epic poem for the last eleven years of his life. He traveled to Greece in 19 BC in order to work on revisions for his poem. He met Augustus in Athens and returned home.

On the return trip, he got ill and died on this day. He had left instructions that this final work be burned. Augustus insisted that it be published with as little alteration as possible. Lucius Varius Rufus and Plotius Tucca were his literary executors and they followed the orders of the Emperor rather than of their client. There are few obvious errors other than a few lines which do not carry the hexameter rhythm. While Virgil was impressed by and followed in the footsteps of Homer, his own work was also later appreciated. Dante honored the influence by having Virgil guide us through hell and purgatory in his own Divine Comedy.

They succeed, because they think they can.

Every calamity is to be overcome by endurance.

It never troubles the wolf how many the sheep may be.

Myself acquainted with misfortune, I learn to help the unfortunate. – all from Virgil

Also on this day: Yes, Virginia – In 1897, Virginia finds out there is a Santa Clause.
Got Milk? – In 1995, the Miracle of the Milk began in India.
Monday Night Changes – In 1970, Monday Night Football premiered.
Ablaze – In 1776, New York City was on fire.

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